Sargon of Akkad

Sargon of Akkad was the first Mesopotamian ruler to control both southern and northern Babylonia thus becoming the king of Sumer and Akkad and inaugurating the Akkadian Empire. He established his capital at the newly founded site of Akkad in northern Babylonia; its exact location is unknown but perhaps near modern Baghdad.

Two things can be known from his name, which means "the legitimate king": This was not his birth name, and he was probably a usurper. One legend names him as the cupbearer of Ur-Zababa, king of Kish.

He started the practice of maintaining a standing army, which allowed him to campaign from eastern Turkey to western Iran. While he fought battles in these areas, it is unclear if he sought and maintained permanent control everywhere he fought, or if he conquered some areas just for the plunder.

In many areas he was content to have the local rulers continue as governors so long as they pledged allegiance to Sargon, providing him with taxes and acknowledging him as the "legitimate king". It is known that he received tribute from Ebla in northern Syria and Elam in western Iran.

In later literature he was seen as a good and triumphant king, in contrast to Naram-Sin, who was usually incompetent and disrespectful to the gods. In the "Sargon Legend" his mother, a priestess not allowed to have children, abandons him in a basket in the Euphrates in order to hide his birth. From this humble beginning, Sargon establishes himself as the king of the first Mesopotamian empire.

The "King of Battle" is another tale that tells of how Sargon traveled to Purushkhanda in central Turkey in order to save the merchants there who were being oppressed. After defeating the king of the city, Nur-Daggal, the local ruler is allowed to continue to govern as long as he acknowledges Sargon as king.

The version of the story that we have comes from 1,000 years after Sargon’s reign and shows the difficulty we have in reconstructing Sargon’s reign with texts that are not contemporaneous. Because of all the successes of this king, Sargon’s name was adopted by a Neo-Assyrian king of the eighth century b.c.e.